More Industry InsightsTelcos, minister close rank on SA satellite tech plans

August 17, 2022by myles0

The use of satellite came under the spotlight last week at the launch of the Association of Communications and Technology (ACT), as telcos and the communications minister agreed on using the technology to drive SA’s developmental agenda.

Digital communications and technologies minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni led the discussion on the matter, as she engaged the CEOs of Vodacom, Rain and Liquid on various industry issues, including a shift in the telecoms regulatory environment.

Globally, the satellite services industry is growing in a rapid development phase, prompting the minister and telcos to close ranks, agreeing to tap into the technology in driving SA’s digital transformation agenda, enhance connectivity and promote the digital economy.

Those attending the ACT launch heard how satellite-based broadband can play a critical role in increasing connectivity in the country and on the African continent as a whole.

Shameel Joosub, Vodacom Group CEO and ACT chairperson, said satellite combined with other technologies have a role in bridging the digital divide and will also help create new economic opportunities through the invention of new services and technologies.

“I think there are quite a few disruptions and opportunities with satellite technology. I just spent two weeks in the West Coast, in the US, and what’s happening in satellite technology is interesting. The ability and the capacity these satellites give you become interesting.

“I think there is so much that can be done, especially when you need to connect the continent that’s unconnected − we have to have these technologies. I think there is definitely an opportunity there,” said Joosub.

Ultimate heritage

For Ntshavheni, embracing satellite technology is not only urgent, it is a matter she hopes will define her legacy as she seeks to close the digital divide.

The minister has already unveiled her plans to Parliament, telling MPs of the portfolio committee on communications that the country’s satellite will be launched through state signal distributor Sentech, in partnership with the South African National Space Agency and all other key stakeholders.

Ntshavheni believes in satellite’s ability to improve connectivity in rural areas, and drive greater inclusion in the digital economy for unserved and underserved areas.

However, last week the minister raised budgetary constraints on the part of government, extending an invitation to telcos to join in delivering on the project.

Ntshavheni said: “I want to leave a legacy on connectivity and the digital divide. To drive that, there are a number of realities we have. When you go fibre, it is expensive for SA, and also as South Africa, our commitment is not only to ourselves, but the region of SADC and to the continent of Africa.

“So, I have said to the CEOs that we are going to launch a satellite, a communications technology satellite, both for broadcasting and for connectivity, and we will launch it here because there are sovereignty issues.

“Some of the companies, in particular MTN and Vodacom, said they are also present across the continent; imagine if they could share instead of buying satellite capacity all over. We could co-own the satellite as South Africa.

“I do say that because the government doesn’t have money, we may have all the licences that we can give but the industry is important. We are also talking to the mining industry because they also use satellite technology so that’s the next step we are driving towards.”

Good intentions

Turning to telecoms regulatory issues, Ntshavheni said her department is driving policies and regulations that are fit for purpose, as some of the regulations governing the sector are outdated.

“We are still regulating an industry that has done a 4 000% revolution on the same policies of the past. So, part of the work that we are doing is to make sure we change both the legislation and policy environment.”

ACT CEO Nomvuyiso Batyi welcomed the minister’s stance on policy review, urging her to champion a “responsive shift” on policy, and ensure that going forward the policies will “be agile and flexible to the environment that we operate in”.

“My plea is that when we are doing regulations and policies we have to check, does it fit within our context in South Africa and what is it that we are trying to fix,” she said.


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